Tuesday, July 27, 2010


A Very Enchanted Evening

Recently, Richard and I saw the glorious “Broadway” production of “South Pacific” at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater and the restaurant we chose to have dinner beforehand left me feeling “Younger than spring time.” Why? Because it brought back memories of when I first left college and started working in Manhattan... before the ‘fine wine & fine dining’ foodie craze and at the tail end of the two martini lunch ‘saloon’ era of the 50’s to mid-60’s. My parents’ post WWII era. The ‘Mad Men’ era.

When I worked at CBS (known as Black Rock) the 21 Club and Toots Shor’s were down the block. The famed 2l (still one of my favorite bars/restaurants ever), a former speakeasy, is still thriving, I’m happy to report… but Toots toodle-oo’d years ago.

I loved Toots and his saloon. I’d listen to his booming voice as he chatted up customers while I hung out at the bar sipping a Cutty Sark on the rocks or a scotch sour (you only had wine back then if you were eating in a French restaurant). Sinatra drank and ate there, as did his fellow Rat Packers and the ‘Copa’ comics of the day. Sitting on a bar stool at Toots’ bar made me feel I arrived. I don’t know to or at what I was arriving, but it was a heady feeling.

And when I went to the theater which was every other week, my friends/dates and I would have dinner after the play at Sardi’s which was still hanging on to its heyday. If not Sardi’s, we’d walk over to Joe Allen, a saloon/pub (still heydaying now) for a late night burger w/ the actors and gypsies appearing on B’way. But Joe Allen represented a new era – my era. Sardi’s was becoming a remnant of an “All About Eve” past.

I miss those old watering holes, as they were often called, even though the food was never what anyone would call ‘fine dining.’ The places had a certain glamour and cachet. So, when Richard and I find a restaurant/bar that reminds me of that era, I’m a happy camper.

Which brings me to Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar which is downstairs from The Music Center (LA’s version of NY’s Lincoln Center) and the only place I want to dine if we’re going to the theater. One perk is we can park our car at the Music Center and walk a few steps to the restaurant – no moving the car or finding a theater shuttle to get us to the show before curtain time. The second perk is that the staff and décor flood me w/ memories of those saloon-restaurants I loved so much when I was a 21 year old ‘career’ girl.

There’s a semi-circular bar in the main dining room surrounded by a dark mahogany half wall topped w/ etched glass panels between shiny brass posts. The TV is set to ESPN (Toots always had some sporting event playing on a screen over his bar, too)… The night we were there George Steinbrenner was being eulogized – an end of a baseball era which I found ironic because I was in a restaurant that reminded me of the saloon era of which Steinbrenner was very much a part.

The dining rooms sport vintage metal sconces from France, red leather banquettes, tables w/ white cloths and comfortable bistro chairs of dark wood and black leather. One sponged mustard-colored wall in our dining room displayed vintage hotel silver trays and serving pieces. A huge chandelier shaped like a steel drum w/ cream glass bowls in metal frames hung from the ceiling. Rooster sculptures ruled the roost near two charming Toulouse-esque murals painted on the back wall… Food was served on white dishes – of course.

But I really fell in love w/ the French imported tile floor with its octagon stars surrounded by solid terra cotta colored tiles and an Aztec-style border. If those old saloons didn’t have dark wood floors – they always had various style tile floors.

Kendall’s is a comfortable, masculine place w/ just enough softness in its design to be welcoming to women.

I no longer drink scotch …wine is my preferred drink w/ dinner now and, unlike those bygone saloon days, most ‘saloons’ now have a fairly nice wine list. Richard and I started off w/ a glass of Shannon Ridge chardonnay. But, speaking of perks, Kendall’s was in the midst of a no corkage fee promotion (still going on), so we brought our own bottle… Woodenhead Pinot Noir, a delicious find from our Sonoma wine trip (see my “Long & Wine-ing Road” blogs of a few months ago).

Also, unlike those bygone saloon days, the food has become more important and Kendall’s offers an interesting selection of delicious French-California cuisine.

For our overture, we shared a watercress & endive salad w/ chevre chaud & walnut vinaigrette…

Then the curtain went up on our entrees. Richard had a grilled loup de mer fillet (sea bass) w/ green asparagus, carrot anise puree & lobster vinaigrette. I had the Chateau steak w/ a béarnaise sauce, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach & pommes frites maison. We left humming the sauces.

I miss those old saloons and that heady feeling I’d get when I was in one (and not from the scotch), but Kendall’s Brasserie & Bar brings back that memory… and the food’s better.

All and all… dinner and a show… a very enchanting evening.


Stu said...

Well done. Before I opened the article I was saying to myself “how is she going to write a whole column on Kendall’s…which in my mind is fine but not really fine dining? And you found a way” the watering hole historical angle. Interesting. – By the way, ‘cache’ as you wrote means hiding place; what you meant to write was ‘cachet’, as in “a mark of distinction.” – But, brava!

ilona saari said...

Can't believe I didn't see that typo (hanging head in shame) -- thanx for the catch -- am off to fix that now. And thanx for the 'brava!'

James said...

If you loved Toots Shor's so much you must see the documentary film
"Toots". It premiered with great reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006 and you can buy it at Amazon.

ilona saari said...

Thanx for the recommendation,James. I'll check it out.